[News] Where Flowers Find No Peace Enough to Grow

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Thu Sep 23 12:28:28 EDT 2021

Where Flowers Find No Peace Enough to Grow: The Thirty-Eighth Newsletter 
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*Where Flowers Find No Peace Enough to Grow: The Thirty-Eighth 
Newsletter (2021)*

Milwa Mnyaluza ‘George’ Pemba (South Africa), /New Brighton, Port 
Elizabeth/, 1977.

Dear friends,

Greetings from the desk of the Tricontinental: Institute of Social 

On 13 July 2021, the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) adopted 
a landmark resolution on the prevalence of racism and for the creation 
of an independent mechanism made up of three experts to investigate the 
root cause of deeply embedded racism and intolerance. The Group of 
African States pushed for this resolution, which had emerged out of 
global anger over the murder of George Floyd by the Minneapolis police 
on 25 May 2020. The discussions 
in the UNHRC considered the problems of police brutality and went back 
to the formation of our modern system in the crucible of slavery and 
colonialism. A number of Western countries – such as the United States 
and the United Kingdom – hesitated 
over both the assessment of the past and the question of reparations; 
these governments were able to remove the requirement to investigate 
systematic racism in US law enforcement.

Recognition of the enormity of the cost of enslavement and colonialism 
is a basic demand of the majority of the world’s population. 
Calculations of these costs range from $777 trillion 
for the trans-Atlantic slave trade to $45 trillion 
for British colonialism in India; these are partial, but still 
formidable, calculations. The total cost of the 191,900 tonnes of gold 
ever mined at the current cost of $46.5 million per ton is merely $9 
trillion – far less than the total bill for enslavement and colonialism. 
No wonder that few governments are willing to entertain the question of 
reparations for the survivors of enslavement and colonialism. Yet, too 
often concealed from any meaningful discussion on reparations is the 
fact that colonial regimes were paid massive sums to compensate the loss 
of their source of income. The French owners of enslaved people in Haiti 
an estimated $28 billion from the revolutionary Haitian government, a 
sum that was not paid off till 1947, to compensate them for the property 
– namely human beings – that was reclaimed during the Revolution. 
Similarly, Britain paid off the English owners of human beings enormous 
sums of money following the 1833 Slavery Abolition Act; according to the 
Treasury, the completion of these payments by British taxpayers was made 
in 2015.

Cyprian Mpho Shilakoe (South Africa), /Let’s Wait Until They Come/, 1970.

The denial of humanity to more than half the world’s population remains 
part of the broad framework of our world system. Even now, in 2021, the 
life of an Afghan civilian is made to be so much less than the life of a 
US soldier. When 20,000 or more people died because a US-owned factory 
exploded in Bhopal (India) in 1984, H. Michael Utidjian, the medical 
director for American Cyanamid, expressed 
grief but asked that it be put into context. What is the context? 
‘Indians’, he said, do not have the ‘North American philosophy of the 
importance of human life’. To Utidjian and so many others, their lives 
are disposable, as disposable as the lives of the 1.6 million Africans 
who die annually 
of preventable lower respiratory tract illnesses and diarrhoea.

Almost all of the deaths by diarrhoea are caused 
by poor hygiene and sanitation as well as unsafe water, problems that 
can be fixed by producing better infrastructure. Six populous countries 
– Congo, Gambia, Ghana, Kenya, Sierra Leone, and Zambia – spend more 
to service their debt than on health and education combined. This is yet 
more hideous evidence of the disregard for people who fought to end 
colonialism but who remain seen by the powerful – despite their surface 
liberalism – as lesser and weaker.

The site where the Njwaxa Leatherwork Factory was once located in Njwaxa 
village near Middledrift in the Eastern Cape (Steve Biko Foundation).

One of the reasons why the Johannesburg (South Africa) office of 
Tricontinental: Institute for Social Research has spent considerable 
energy excavating the histories of struggle is to put on the record the 
Black-led struggle for freedom in southern Africa. They have gone back 
in time to the tell us about the history of the Industrial & Commercial 
Workers’ Union (ICU) from 1919 to 1931, the ancestor of the modern trade 
union movement in South Africa (dossier no. 20 
September 2019). They have told us about the development of contemporary 
South African politics (dossier no. 31 
August 2020) and about the contemporary shack dwellers movement – 
Abahlali baseMjondolo – and its grip on the imagination of the country’s 
poor (dossier no. 11 
December 2018). These have been accompanied by dossiers on the impact of 
powerful social theorists of African insurgencies and pedagogies of the 
poor offered through the work of Frantz Fanon (dossier no. 26 
March 2020) and Paulo Freire (dossier no. 34 
November 2020), whose centenary we celebrate this year. Each of these 
texts are working to build an archive of Black struggle against regimes 
of disparagement.

Dossier no. 44 
(September 2021) is called /Black Community Programmes: The Practical 
Manifestations of Black Consciousness Philosophy/. These Black Community 
Programmes (BCP) ran from 1972 to 1977, each one founded and led by 
Black South Africans, each one developed to advance the cause of the 
Black community, and each one shut down by the apartheid regime. The BCP 
included projects of community welfare, Black art, Black theology, and 
decolonised education. A key area of the BCP was to develop the 
consciously neglected health of Black South Africans. Projects such as 
the Zanempilo Community Health Centre (Eastern Cape) and Solempilo 
(Durban, KZN) carried the objectives reflected in their names: 
/zanempilo/ meaning ‘the one bringing health’ and /solempilo/ meaning 
‘eye of health’. Both were shut down by the apartheid regime when it 
banned all Black Consciousness groups in October 1977.

Steve Biko (fourth from the right, wearing a cap) at the University of 
Natal Medical School Non-European Section in Durban, 5 April 1969 
(Lindiwe Edith Gumede Baloyi).

The BCP emerged out of the context of intense popular resistance to the 
racist apartheid regime in South Africa, resistance that was not 
demoralised by the banning of the African National Congress and the 
Pan-Africanist Congress, but which thundered into the formation of the 
South African Students’ Organisation (SASO) in 1968. SASO was led by 
Steve Biko (1946-1977), who shaped the philosophy of Black Consciousness 
and who was murdered in the brutal cells of the racist government. 
Biko’s ideas of Black Consciousness were capacious. He had a deep sense 
that Black dignity had to be affirmed and that Black leadership had to 
be developed in order for a true future equality to be established. 
Black South Africans did not want freedom to be gifted to them; they had 
to seize it, nurture it, and build it further.

Charlotte Maxeke Street (formerly Beatrice Street) in Durban, 2021 
(Nomfundo Xolo).

Biko defined Black Consciousness precisely as an ideology that:

seeks to give positivity in the outlook of the black people to their 
problems. It works on the knowledge that ‘white hatred’ is negative, 
though understandable, and leads to precipitate and shot-gun methods 
which may be disastrous for black and white [people] alike. It seeks to 
channel the pent-up forces of the angry black masses to meaningful and 
directional opposition basing its entire struggle on realities of the 
situation. It wants to ensure a singularity of purpose in the minds of 
the black people and to make possible total involvement of the masses in 
a struggle essentially theirs.

This is neither Afro-pessimism nor futile despair for people of African 
descent, nor is it a declaration of Black separatism. Rather, this is 
the most profound synthesis of a politics of human dignity and a 
politics of socialism.

In 2006, journalist Niren Tolsi spoke to the poet Mafika Pascal Gwala 
(1946-2014) and asked him about the meaning of Black Consciousness in 
his life. ‘We didn’t take Black Consciousness as a kind of Bible’, Gwala 
to Tolsi. ‘It was just a trend, which was a necessary one because it 
meant bringing in what the white opposition [to apartheid] couldn’t 
bring into the struggle. So much was brought into the struggle through 
Black Consciousness’. The Black Consciousness movement – alongside South 
African Communism (as documented in Tom Lodge’s monumental new book /Red 
Road to Freedom/ 
2021) and the trade union movement that emerged from the Durban strikes 
in 1973 – certainly brought the masses into the anti-apartheid struggle 
in a way that the white opposition could not; but it also brought in the 
sensibility of worth, of being worthy of human life, of making the 
struggle for freedom something precise and worthwhile for the dignity of 
existence rather than an abstraction.

That search for dignity defines the poetry of Gwala, whose Soweto poems 
sizzle with the desire for freedom:

Our history will be written
at the factory gates
at the unemployment offices
in the scorched queues of
dying mouths

Our history shall be our joys
our sorrows
our anguish
scrawled in dirty Third Class toilets

Our history will be the distorted figures
and bitter slogans
decorating our ghetto walls
where flowers find no peace enough to grow.



Website <www.eltricontinental.org>




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